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FOUR: the grand finale!

Today we celebrated the final 'SoundUp with Opera North' workshop by transforming the care home setting into a glittering Opera Gala.

To mark the end of our 'SoundUp with Opera North' workshop series we had a wonderful celebration of creativity, music and dance by bringing a very special participatory opera gala to two dementia care venues in Manchester.

Our reach this week:

49 participants

10 musicians from the RNCM

1 Opera North artist

9 community volunteers and carers

1 videographer

2 venues

Outline of the workshop

As participants entered and got settled into the space they were given an invitation to the 'SoundUp with Opera North' Gala, this allowed participants and musicians to introduce themselves, and started to bring people into the context of the space and build an understanding of what the session was about.

We started with a performance of 'Summertime' sung by Sarah and performed by Nat on the horn. This set the atmosphere of the session and marked the commencement of the workshop.

I then facilitated an introductory segment, introducing the opera gala theme, and inviting each musician to introduce themselves. We did an imagination exercise to set the scene of our opera gala; what the theatre looked like, the smells, sights, feel and sounds of the gala. We did a singing warmup connected to this, using lyrics related to getting ready to go to the opera. I asked for input from the participants as to how we would travel to the gala, with 'horse and carriage' being an immediate suggestion. Participants offered up wonderful answers to what we would drink at our gala including 'Gin and Tonic', 'A Pint' and 'Champagne!' When asked what they would drink we had similarly exotic responses 'Smoked Salmon', 'Roast Beef' and 'Canapés'.

We had enormous fun getting 'dressed up' for the gala in various hats, gloves, feather boas, and furs- all provided by the RNCM costume department. Many participants delighted at being able to try on various costumes and wore them throughout the session. There was lots of laughter, joking and playfulness as people modelled various costumes.

We then heard Dasha perform 'Oh Mio Babbino Caro' describing the character, context and meaning of what she was expressing.

After listening Dasha sing, we commented that she would have needed to warm up, and that if we were going to sing in some opera choruses that we should also warm up as a group. I asked the singers to share some vocal warm ups with us, which the participants then learned and echoed back, which was a fun and challenging segment.

We then heard a duet from Emily and Sarah, who performed 'We'll Gather Lilacs' as they sung we handed out prop flowers to each participant, which they held and swayed during the music. This was a lovely and calm section, with the flowers adding a nice tactile and visual stimulus to the participant's listening.

Jordan then sang 'Come Paride Vezzoso' from L'elisir d'Amore. This was a characterful and vibrant performance, in which Jordan 'wooed' several of the audience members with further bunches of flowers. Jordan brilliantly really involved himself with the participants, getting up close and interacting with people as he performed to great comic results.

We then had our first chorus sing along with the participants, revisiting our version of 'V'adoro Pupille' from week one's workshop on Giulio Cesare.

We then heard another solo performance from Naomi who sang 'Voi Che Sapete' by Mozart, describing the opera, character and circumstance of the piece.

We then looked at some costumes and props from the RNCM opera store, and dressed Hannah up in a flowing organza robe and silk hat. We discussed the use of costumes, wigs and makeup in opera to transform performers into different characters. We also put some stage makeup on Hannah, to complete her transformation into Eliza Doolittle.

Hannah then performed 'I could have danced all night' from My Fair Lady as she sang many participants moved and sang. We then repeated her chorus with everyone singing along, and many participants getting up to dance with facilitators, volunteers or each other.

We taught the participants a new chorus part, which is repeatedly sung by the maidens during Mabel's aria 'Poor Wandering One' in Pirates of Penzance. Once everyone had sung through the chorus part a few times, Ahlyssa performed Mabel's aria, and everyone joined in singing the chorus parts within the solo piece. This was a wonderful chance to sing together within a performance, and gave a great sense of group achievement.

We ended the session with a very special guest performance. Samantha Clarke, an alumni of the RNCM and the current Musetta in Opera North's production of La Boheme came and sung Musetta's showstopping aria 'Quando men vol' to celebrate the end of the workshop series. She described her character and what she was singing about, and even dressed up in costume using a feathered fan to bring the character to life. She was very immersive and interactive with the audience, singing at points to different participants. Her performance was so powerful that we had a participant burst into tears when she finished, feeling so overwhelmed by the special experience of seeing her perform so close-up. Many of the participants were attending the performance of La Boheme at the Lowry that evening, which Samantha was performing in.

We then brought the session to a close, thanking all the performers, volunteers and of course the participants for making the series such a joy.

As always, the musicians stayed for tea and coffee, answering participant's questions and collecting feedback.

Participant feedback

We had wonderful participant feedback this week collected via written questionnaires but also given verbally and visually. A videographer from the RNCM conducted interviews with 6 participants after the session to include in a film about the project. This video will be available to view in December 2019.